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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                 57
hope of encountering an enemy.... Degtyarenko.. .. The
plane.... The boys....
Impelled by a fresh burst of energy, Alexei glanced
at the icy side of the crater. "I'll never get out that way,"
he said to himself. "But I can't lie here and wait for
death!" He drew his dirk from its scabbard and began
with listless, feeble strokes to hack footholds in the icy
side, scraping the frozen sand away with his finger-nails.
He scraped until his finger-nails broke and his fingers
bled, but he kept hacking away with his dirk with un-
relaxing energy. Then, clinging to the dents with his
hands and knees, he slowly climbed up the side and at
last reached the breastwork. Another effort to lie across
the breastwork and roll over and he would be saved,
but his feet slipped and down he went, striking his face
painfully against the ice. He was severely hurt, but the
drone of the aircraft engine still rang in his ears. He
climbed up the side again, and again slipped to the
bottom. Then, after critically examining the dents he had
made he began to deepen them, making the edges of the
top ones sharper; and when he had finished he started to
climb again, cautiously exerting his failing strength.
With enormous difficulty he threw himself across the
sandy breastwork and helplessly rolled down to the
ground. Then he crawled in the direction in which the
aircraft had flown, and from which the sun had risen over
the forest, dispelling the snow-devouring mist and caus-
ing the ice crust to sparkle like crystal.
13
But he found it extremely hard to crawl. His arms
trembled and gave way, unable to bear the weight of
his body. Several times his face hit the melting snow.
It seemed as though the earth had enormously increased
its force of gravity, it was impossible to resist it. Alexei
wanted very much to lie down and rest for at least half an
hour, but the determination to press on amounted to a
frenzy today; and so he crawled and crawled, fell, got
up, crawled again, conscious of neither pain nor hunger,
seeing nothing, hearing nothing except the sound of
artillery and machine-gun fire.